Edmonton city councillor unimpressed with housing announcement

A housing announcement made in Sherwood Park, Alta. Friday, March 15, 2019.
A housing announcement made in Sherwood Park, Alta. Friday, March 15, 2019. Global News

The province and the feds announced a 10-year, $678-million affordable housing agreement on Friday. Federal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and provincial Minister of Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson stepped up to a sun-drenched podium in Sherwood Park to announce a program that’s due to start on April 1.

Completely unimpressed is Edmonton City Councillor Michael Walters.

“We said recently when we launched our shovel-ready campaign that we need $1.1 billion over the next five years for Edmonton alone. Provincial and federal dollars are not even close, anywhere in the ballpark.”

He compared for reporters at Edmonton City Hall, the difference between what the city has mapped out for the two other orders of government, and what they have delivered, saying Edmonton has demonstrated a need for $200 million a year for five years, compared to this $67 million a year for the entire province.

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“I appreciate that they have funding challenges of their own, but what we keep reminding them is, the longer we kick the can down the road on putting people in good housing, the more costs in health care they are accruing, the more costs in policing they and we are accruing, the more costs in loss productivity and lost potential of young people not doing as well in the economy,” Walters said.

“There’s a huge return on investment for the housing dollars that are required and our job is to just keep working hard to make sure that message gets out there.

“We’ve asked people during this election when a candidate comes to your door, ask that candidate, ‘What are you going to do about housing?’ Because it’s an important issue for our city and it’s wasting money. So not investing in housing is a waste of money.”

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The $678-million investment announced Friday is split equally between the two governments.

Sohi said the goal is to grow the affordable housing inventory.

“Our government will continue working in partnership with Alberta and other provinces and territories towards a 15 per cent expansion in new affordable housing units and renewing 20 per cent of existing community housing units across the country,” Sohi said.

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“This new agreement means Alberta can continue our bold approach to address the housing needs of Albertans,” said Sigurdson.

READ MORE: CMHC says it wants every Canadian in an affordable home by 2030

Walters said Edmonton is putting the finishing touches on statistical evidence it will present to the province and the feds that can track dollars spent on assisted housing, which in turn translates into savings for health-care services and policing costs. He pointed to Ambrose Place and its treatment for those at one extreme end of assistance, as reducing visits to emergency wards in Edmonton hospitals.

Of the thousands of subsidized and below market rate housing units needed, the most recent $107 million the city got from the province would provide 800 places to live.

“I don’t think there’s a true recognition of the need in Edmonton. We’ve worked really hard to be precise of what that need is, and we’ll have to continue to work hard to make sure they understand what’s required here.”

The province said he money announced Friday is on top of what was announced in 2015. It’s due to kick in when the new fiscal year begins after this month, and will run through the end of March 2028.